Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Innovation Pathways: Encapsulation Technology Moving into Numerous Areas

I'm amazed at the many clever uses of micro-encapsulation technology in recent years. Over 50 years ago, researchers at NCR working with Appleton Papers (now just "Appleton") created a truly disruptive innovation that was the basis for modern carbonless copy paper. The technology was based on the clever use of microencapuslated reagents that, when ruptured by the force of a pen or pencil acting on an upper layer, would react and turn blue, creating in-situ ink from materials that were previously colorless. Brilliant!

In the food industry, encapsulation of baking powder or other leavening agents in shells of fat are the secret to self-rising pizza crusts. If the leavening were active in the dough before freezing, the dough would have very little rise left by the time it was cooked. But by keeping the baking powder separate from the moisture in the crust until the dough is heated - thus melting the shells around the encapsulated powder - the rising action is delivered just in time and provides the popular rising crusts of several leading brands.

Encapsulation is moving to new heights - or temperatures - through the use of new temperature resistant technology in which the shell of a yeast cell is the body of the capsule. This Thermarome® technology from the Swiss firm, Firmenich, has exciting potential. The yeast encapsulation technology acquired previously from the UK firm MicCap, can allow high-temperature processing (e.g., frying)to be done without releasing flavoring agents, something not possible with other typical encapuslation technologies used in food. See some of the latest developments in this area in an article at NurtraIngredients.com.

Encapsulated flavors can pose the challenge of not being smelled until after they are in the mouth, reducing some of the user experience. But clever combinations of multiple technologies or different capsule types can help overcome this.

Is there a disruptive innovation beyond the encapsulation of aroma and flavor that may challenge the established players? Could active rather than passive delivery play an increased role in the future? Or could other matrix loading technologies provide the next big boost for flavor and aroma? Stay tuned!

By the way, the story behind the pursuit of patent protection for carbonless paper has lessons for innovators that still need to be taught today. The story is told briefly by Appleton in their article on Lowel Schleicher, one of the inventors:
While at NCR Corporation, Schleicher began working with the Barry Green, a company scientist who introduced the first commercial example of a system of liquid-filled microcapsules dispersed within a solid coating. It was this microencapsulation system that was used to develop carbonless paper.

During 1952 and 1953 Schleicher and Green worked together to further develop and refine the microencapsulation system. They co-invented the system that is used to produce much of today’s carbonless paper and filed the patent on June 30, 1953.

During the patent application process Schleicher proved he was as capable of explaining his ideas as he was at creating them. "The examiner refused to believe that capsules existed and instead felt the paper contained nothing more than oil and water emulsion," said Schleicher. "So I put my equipment and materials on his desk and demonstrated the entire process right in front of him." The patent office approved his application.

Schleicher, Green and others at NCR Corporation collaborated with Appleton Coated Paper Company, the predecessor company to Appleton, to commercially introduce carbonless paper in 1954. Schleicher continued to work with Appleton and, after NCR Corporation acquired Appleton Coated Paper Company in 1971, he moved to Appleton in 1973 and was named Appleton Papers' director of basic research, a position he held until his retirement in May 1990.
Moral? There are several:
  1. Examiner interviews are valuable tools for advancing the prosecution of a patent.
  2. Demonstrations can be powerful teaching tools in interviews (they require prior approval and must not use unsafe materials - discuss the proposed demo carefully with the examiner before the interview).
  3. Patents are stronger when inventors are closely involved in the preparation AND prosecution of the patents.
  4. Knowledgeable inventors who can explain their invention and teach others really make a difference. Invention without good communication will usually not realize the potential that was there.


Anonymous said...

Appleton, the world’s largest producer of carbonless paper, is continuing to make even more pathways in microencapsulation in 2008.

The company is currently using its recent development partnership with Procter & Gamble and its extensive knowledge of microencapsulation technology to provide product solutions with customer-specified properties to other manufacturers. By building on its expertise and making changes to accommodate its P&G partnership, Appleton is well-positioned to explore new markets and develop relationships beyond the paper industry.

While Appleton’s knowledge of coating chemistries was involved in achieving the first commercial application of microencapsulation (carbonless paper) in 1954, this partnership marks the first time Appleton has delivered large quantities of their capsules on a regular basis to an external customer with global needs.

Other new product categories that the company has identified includes food (neutracueticals or flavorings), fragrance, agro chemicals, adhesives, inks/toners, paints and industrial coatings, cosmetics and personal care products and flame retardants (clothing, bedding, etc.)

As this blog describes, Microencapsulation is the process in which solid, liquid or gaseous core materials are encased in tiny shells or capsules that are one micron to several hundred microns in diameter. Among the many benefits of microencapsulation is the controlled release of the core material when the capsule wall is ruptured by mechanical pressure or friction.

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